My lovely memories of Siena

Siena from the distance

Siena from the distance

We were in Tuscany three years ago and what a great time it was to spend two glorious weeks of summer in the almost magical Tuscan countryside.

I’ve blogged about this Tuscan holiday some months ago but not about the lovely city of Siena which my husband and I explored one hot summer day (without Francesca and my parents-in-law who opted for the soothing waters of the swimming pool back at our agriturismo apartment). I can fully understand them as a busy and touristic city is no place for a child and the grandparents on an extremely warm day, with the temperature soaring beyond 40 degrees Celsius.

Siena first came into my consciousness as a 9 year-old, not because of Geography lesson but religion because my parents transferred me and my brother and sister to a Catholic school run by the Dominican sisters of St. Catherine of Siena. I am not a very religious person but it was still mystifying to be in a city which I have always known to exist and more so, to pray inside the basilica right in front of relics of St. Catherine’s earthly existence.

My husband and I enjoyed the whole adventure. The drive to Sienna through a beautiful countryside was something straight out of a movie setting turned a.k.a. Reality — inviting sunflower fields, charming hilltop Medieval villages, vineyards and olive orchards, rolling hills turned golden by the ripening wheat fields dotted by sentinel-looking cypress trees.

It was fun to see and experience a bit of Siena. From the Basilica of St. Catherine, we proceeded to have lunch at a restaurant where we had a good vantage point to observe the city. The restaurant’s interior still boasts of those old days’ charm from the dried peppers hanging on the wall together with the ham, dried sausages, garlic, etc.

Lunch was excellent. I opted for beef carpaccio as a starter and risotto for main course. The carpaccio which was well chilled was simply perfect to have on a very warm day. My husband loved his pizza. Our dessert of an almost melt in the mouth chocolate cake was divine.

We headed next to the centre of Siena. I love the narrow streets, the well-preserved architecture, colorful flowers on pots suspended in the air and the lively atmosphere of the city. I wanted to see the inside of the Duomo but decided not to as there was a long queue and the entry tickets were being sold elsewhere, a typical Italian complexity that is baffling for visitors like me.

We checked some interesting shops — galleries featuring Tuscan landscapes, leather shops, ceramic shops and the most interesting was one whose alchemic practices date back to the Renaissance. This shop’s history even goes back to the time of Catherine de Medici whose use of perfumes and scented soaps was an influence she brought to France when she married Henri II. I couldn’t resist the urge to try some of their products and bought some scented lavender soaps and bath salts to share with my mom-in-law who loves these things a lot.

After a few more ins and outs to the shops, it was time to head back to our agriturismo. A dip in the pool was becoming too irresistible before starting the dinner preparation.

Siena is one city that I’d love to visit again in the future, albeit at a much more pleasant temperature than the 42 degrees Celsius that it was.

Sunflower fields and hilltop Medieval villages from afar

Sunflower fields and hilltop Medieval villages from afar

Sunflower visited by a buzzing friend

Sunflower visited by a buzzing friend

Hubby and me on our way to Siena

Hubby and me on our way to Siena

Tuscan countryside

Tuscan countryside

Rolling hillsides turned gold from the ripening wheat grains dotted by sentinel-looking cypress trees

Rolling hillsides turned gold from the ripening wheat grains dotted by sentinel-looking cypress trees

Olive orchards

Olive orchards

Tuscan countryside

Tuscan countryside

The Basilica of St. Catherine of Siena

The Basilica of St. Catherine of Siena

The Duomo

The Duomo

The restaurant where we had a very nice lunch

The restaurant where we had a very nice lunch

I always find this type of display very inviting

I always find this type of display very inviting

Beef carpaccio starter

Beef carpaccio starter

Pumpkin risotto

Pumpkin risotto

Monstrous pizza ordered by the hubby

Monstrous pizza ordered by the hubby

Melts in the mouth chocolate cake

Melts in the mouth chocolate cake

Cappuccino to keep us awake after the very nice lunch

Cappuccino to keep us awake after the very nice lunch

Can't resist getting a little refreshing relief under the 42 degree Celsius heat

Can’t resist getting a little refreshing relief under the 42 degree Celsius heat

Gallery featuring Tuscan countryside sceneries

Gallery featuring Tuscan countryside sceneries

Shop of leather goods

Shop of leather goods

Shop of religious goods

Shop of religious goods

Italian ceramics

Italian ceramics

Italian ceramics

Italian ceramics

Masks

Masks

Travel guides

Travel guides

Perfumes whose formulas date back to the Renaissance era

Perfumes whose formulas date back to the Renaissance era

Couldn't resist some of these perfumed soaps

Couldn’t resist some of these perfumed soaps

These perfumed bath salts smelled divine

These perfumed bath salts smelled divine

Soaps from the days of the Medicis

Soaps from the days of the Medicis

Dried Italian herbs

Dried Italian herbs

One of the many ancient narrow streets

One of the many ancient narrow streets

At the Piazza del Campo where the Palio de Siena is held twice a year

At the Piazza del Campo where the Palio de Siena is held twice a year

Siena and its famous Torre del Mangia

Siena and its famous Torre del Mangia

A street in Siena

A street in Siena

A street in Siena

A street in Siena

The Basilica of St. Catherine from Siena's city centre

The Basilica of St. Catherine from Siena’s city centre

The limestone cliffs of Etretat

The limestone cliffs and arches of Etretat at dusk

The limestone cliffs and arches of Etretat at dusk

Monet's "End of the day" painting of Etretat

Monet’s “End of the day” painting of Etretat

Monet has immortalized in his canvas the limestone arches and cliffs of Etretat over a century ago. I can imagine why this fishing village along the Atlantic coast fascinated him then and why its charm still draws many to this day.

Almost five years ago, in late summer and my daughter was still a baby of just 10 months, we spent a week in this lovely seaside town. It was me and my husband’s second time to be in Normandy but a first for my parents-in-law who joined us in this holiday. We stayed in a pretty much secluded but lovely house owned by a French farmer perched on the hilltop that’s about two kms from Etretat’s town center.

Etretat is a town with character still intact in terms of those lovely half-timbered houses apart from its ever famous limestone arches and cliffs. While commercialism has unavoidably taken its root as well, the old charm still prevails. We had days spent on its pebbled beach watching just about everything — fishing boats coming onshore and the seemingly timeless manner of auctioning off the fishermen’s catch to restaurant buyers who boast of fresh catch of the day on their menus, busy cockle gatherers at low tide when the bottom of the shallow part of the Atlantic gets exposed, to magical sunsets that brought us a good understanding of why Monet fell in love with Etretat in the first place.

Etretat despite being romanticized most times, is like the rest of Normandy which has not been spared from the scourge of WWII. Along its picture-perfect coast, one cannot miss the heavily-fortified and macabre looking German bunker which must have seen some of the fiercest battles back then.

At the far end of Etretat’s picturesque limestone cliff is a quaint chapel which we visited in late afternoon just close to sunset time. It is not a real chapel but a folly, its placement there was more for aesthetic to further Etretat’s charm. Despite that discovery, this part of Etretat is simply spectacular with the most amazing vantage point to see the waters of the Atlantic as it stretches far into the horizon on one side, the town of Etretat below and the limestone arches further on.

We had a wonderful time during this holiday exploring not just Etretat but other historic places in Normandy as well.

The rocky cliffs of Étretat by Monet

The rocky cliffs of Étretat by Monet

Monet's painting

Monet’s painting

On our arrival in Etretat, we were treated to this wonderful sunset

On our arrival in Etretat, we were treated to this wonderful sunset

Our family minus Francesca who was already fast asleep

Our family minus Francesca who was already fast asleep

The pretty much secluded holiday home we stayed in

The pretty much secluded holiday home we stayed in

Etretat's pebbled beach and limestone cliffs

Etretat’s pebbled beach and limestone cliffs

Our family

Our family

Our family

Our family

View from atop the limestone cliffs of Etretat

View from atop the limestone cliffs of Etretat

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

The Atlantic at sunset from atop the limestone cliffs of Etretat

The Atlantic at sunset from atop the limestone cliffs of Etretat

The town of Etretat

The town of Etretat

The folly chapel

The folly chapel

Etretat's limestone cliffs

Etretat’s limestone cliffs

The folly chapel and the Atlantic at sunset

The folly chapel and the Atlantic at sunset

Our family

Our family

Mom and Dad

Mom and Dad

Our family minus me (the photographer)

Our family minus me (the photographer)

Etretat at dusk

Etretat at dusk

Francesca in Etretat

Francesca in Etretat

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Francesca with opa and oma

Francesca with opa and oma

At the shores of Etretat.  Behind them is the partial view of the sinister-looking German bunker from WWII

At the shores of Etretat. Behind them is the partial view of the sinister-looking German bunker from WWII

One sunny day in Etretat

One sunny day in Etretat

Our family

Our family

Cockle gatherers hard at work during low tide

Cockle gatherers hard at work during low tide

Etretat at dusk

Etretat at dusk

Drive through Grossglockner High Alpine Road

Spectacular scenery of snow-capped mountains and carpet of wild alpine blooms

Spectacular scenery of snow-capped mountains and carpet of wild alpine blooms

Many say that driving through the hairpin bends of Grossglockner High Alpine Road is the ultimate test for a good driver. There must be some truth to that because this road that goes up to about 3,798 meters above sea level through some 36 tricky bends and steep mountain cliffs is no laughing matter. It is a tall order to negotiate through such challenging conditions and not fall under the spell of amazing mountain sceneries that can make one lose focus which even for just a matter of seconds can be catastrophic.

We made two attempts at Grossglockner with the first one characterized by poor visibility. We were told that we could come back another time without paying the €33 toll fee. When the weather improved a few days later, we were back again and certainly it was worth the effort. The drive was exhilarating — what with the amazing sceneries of snow-capped mountains, scented pine forests, meadows blanketed with colorful alpine blooms, mountain tarns with turquoise colored glacial waters, waterfalls and culminating at the glacier that is Pasterze.

We brought our picnic basket with us and stopped by a nice picnic area close to a waterfall. Nothing can be far nicer than that, to have our meal in such a surrounding and savor all that beauty. Along the way was a restaurant with a lovely children’s playground and flower garden teeming with wild alpine blooms.

I’m looking forward to another trip up Grossglockner this summer. I am already imagining my little girl in her nice summer dress running around in that flower garden, picking a bloom or two to clip in her hair and singing the “Doe a deer” from her favorite movie, “The Sound of Music”.

Glacial mountain tarns

Glacial mountain tarns

Pine-scented forests, meadows carpeted in wild blooms and snow-capped mountain peaks

Pine-scented forests, meadows carpeted in wild blooms and snow-capped mountain peaks

Waterfalls

Waterfalls

Our family

Our family

A tunnel

A tunnel

Inside the tunnel

Inside the tunnel

A map of Grossglockner

A map of Grossglockner

Little Francesca at Grossglockner

Little Francesca at Grossglockner

Grossglockner

Grossglockner

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

At the children's playground:  "Let's go this way, Francesca."

At the children’s playground: “Let’s go this way, Francesca.”

"No, I go this way, Papa."

“No, I go this way, Papa.”

Beautiful garden of wild blooms

Beautiful garden of wild blooms

Lovely sign

Lovely sign

A butterfly

A butterfly

Forget-me-not blooms

Forget-me-not blooms

Alpine bloom

Alpine bloom

Some bugs

Some bugs

Alpine blooms

Alpine blooms

alpine blooms

alpine blooms

alpine blooms

alpine blooms

Mountain huts

Mountain huts

The Mr.

The Mr.

Hotel in Grossglockner

Hotel in Grossglockner

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Me

Me

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Mountain scenery

Mountain scenery

Mountain scenery

Mountain scenery

Me

Me

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Groeneveld Castle in spring

Groeneveld Castle when the sun eventually showed up

Groeneveld Castle when the sun eventually showed up

After a very busy week at work and in between was a work-related one day trip to London that saw me rushing very early to the airport to catch the 08:00 a.m. flight and returning very late in the evening, I just felt the need to unwind with a little walk in nearby Groeneveld Castle. This castle and its grounds are just perfect for a little stroll at this time of the year because the many decades-old rhododendrons are in full bloom.

Groeneveld was just a perfect venue for our little girl’s seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm for tree-climbing, catching dragonflies and a chasing game with her father.

Everything is so green around Groeneveld Castle

Everything is so green around Groeneveld Castle

Groeneveld Castle from the distance

Groeneveld Castle from the distance

Choosing the best ice cream flavor

Choosing the best ice cream flavor

Francesca at Groeneveld Castle

Francesca at Groeneveld Castle

My little girl up the tree

My little girl up the tree

My little tree up the tree

My little tree up the tree

My little girl and me

My little girl and me

My little girl and me up the tree

My little girl and me up the tree

Pink rhododendrons

Pink rhododendrons

Yellow iris

Yellow iris

Prickly flowers

Prickly flowers

Dragonfly on yellow iris

Dragonfly on yellow iris

Dragonfly on the iris before it was chased away by the bumble bee

Dragonfly on the iris before it was chased away by the bumble bee

Reflections

Reflections

Lotus-covered lake

Lotus-covered lake

A carpet of lily of the valley

A carpet of lily of the valley

Checking out hole in a dead tree

Checking out hole in a dead tree

Tree branch is always a good find for the little girl

Tree branch is always a good find for the little girl

Trying out a tent made of tree branches

Trying out a tent made of tree branches

One of the many huge trees in the castle grounds

One of the many huge trees in the castle grounds

A crow up in the tree

A crow up in the tree

Yellow scented rhododendrons

Yellow scented rhododendrons

Ferns

Ferns

Francesca with her dragonfly

Francesca with her dragonfly

A dragonfly she caught

A dragonfly she caught

Dainty spring bloom

Dainty spring bloom

Father and daughter chasing game

Father and daughter chasing game

Relaxing after the chasing game...

Relaxing after the chasing game…

Francesca atop the remnants of a dead tree trunk

Francesca atop the remnants of a dead tree trunk

The dead tree trunk proved to be a good spring board

The dead tree trunk proved to be a good spring board

Groeneveld Castle just before we left

Groeneveld Castle just before we left

Hiking in the land where the hills are alive…

Up high in the mountains we do realize how much beauty there is that we oftentimes overlook back in the busy rat race that is every day life...

Up high in the mountains we do realize how much beauty there is that we oftentimes overlook back in the busy rat race that is every day life…

As the month of June inch its way, the excitement for the coming summer is starting to gather pace. The past week of glorious sunshine is also fueling that summer holiday feeling.

Still lots of patience needed as there are several more weeks to go before the school break. In our region (Middle Netherlands) will be the last to have the school break — only on week 30 (from 20 July to 1 September) which is pretty late this year. Because of this late holiday, we are going to Austria and hopefully, good weather will be on our side this time. The last time that we were there 4 years ago at just the onset of summer, we had a week of just rain and chilly if not freezing temperature.

On this post, I’m taking you high up in the alps on one of the very few days that we saw the sun on this holiday. Near our camping site was this cable lift that took us up the mountains but we opted to hike on the way down. Francesca was then a 20-month old toddler and fitted well in a backpack baby carrier. The hike down the mountain was a very rewarding adventure as we were able to witness first hand the incredible and beckoning beauty of this part of the planet — alpine cows grazing in the meadow, wild blooms of amazing colors, tarn that on a clear day reflects the infinite blue sky, incredible vantage point to view the picturesque villages in the valley and many more.

While the good weather days were few and far between, moments such as this trip we had up the mountain and down were worth the holiday in the Alps. I can hardly wait for another hiking adventure.

Picturesque villages in the valley as viewed from the mountain

Picturesque villages in the valley as viewed from the mountain

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter inside the cable car

Father and daughter inside the cable car

Little girl can hardly wait to check out snow remnants

Little girl can hardly wait to check out snow remnants

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Mountain tarn -- on a clear day reflects the blue sky above

Mountain tarn — on a clear day reflects the blue sky above

Alpine cow by the alpine shelter

Alpine cow by the alpine shelter

Alpine cows

Alpine cows

Our family

Our family

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine blooms

Wild alpine bloom

Wild alpine bloom

Amber-colored mushroom

Amber-colored mushroom

Path of the cable car

Path of the cable car

Even as a baby, Francesca loves adorning her hair with flowers

Even as a baby, Francesca loves adorning her hair with flowers

Picturesque alpine scenery

Picturesque alpine scenery

Me

Me

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Little girl having fun playing with water

Little girl having fun playing with water

Francesca

Francesca

Me by the mountain tarn

Me by the mountain tarn

Alpine cow

Alpine cow

Tree-line part of the mountain

Tree-line part of the mountain

Wild flowers carpeting meadows

Wild flowers carpeting meadows

Butterfly

Butterfly

Kids on the loose at the gardens of Soestdijk Palace

Flowers for you...

Flowers for you…

Happiness is oftentimes just right before our very eyes, ready to be grabbed with both hands and very much willing to be shared and spread around. We never need to look far and wide nor travel to the ends of the world to find it. All we need to do is to open our hearts and embrace the opportunity to be a blessing to others just as our lives have been blessed by the One above. I live by this tenet on a daily basis, choosing to be happy when I wake up each morning, thankful for the many blessings of good health, my loving family, loyal friends and the career that fulfills me professionally.

I can never be happier waking up yesterday to the bright sunny day. After enjoying the leisurely breakfast that we normally have on a Sunday, I was busy again preparing our picnic basket. It was destination Soestdijk Palace which is a 10-minute drive away for a family outing. Timing-wise, yesterday was just perfect because the decades-old rhododendrons were in full bloom. Because happiness is best experienced when shared with others, my daughter invited her best friend to come along. Oh, what a day!

Soestdijk Palace was home to the late Queen Juliana (grandmother of present King Willem-Alexander) and her husband Prince Bernard until their deaths in 2004. The palace was opened to the public since the spring of 2006.

Soestdijk Palace from across the lake

Soestdijk Palace from across the lake

Tree climbing

Tree climbing

Running around

Running around

Hanging on trees like monkeys

Hanging on trees like monkeys

Hiding under the huge rhododendrons

Hiding under the huge rhododendrons

Jumping from sheer joy

Jumping from sheer joy

Chasing each other

Chasing each other

Playing hide-and-seek

Playing hide-and-seek

Picking flowers...

Picking flowers…

Enjoying the picnic in such a stunning location

Enjoying the picnic in such a stunning location

Quiet moments ...

Quiet moments …

More chasing game

More chasing game

Checking out how tall the tree was...

Checking out how tall the tree was…

Best friends

Best friends

Rhododendrons in full bloom

Rhododendrons in full bloom

My little girl with her bouquet of spring blooms

My little girl with her bouquet of spring blooms

Just so much beauty all over...

Just so much beauty all over…

My little girl

My little girl

Our view from under the shade of the apple tree...

Our view from under the shade of the apple tree…

Soestdijk Palace from the white bridge

Soestdijk Palace from the white bridge

Reflections on the lake

Reflections on the lake

Our family

Our family

Best friends...

Best friends…

Bouquet of spring blooms

Bouquet of spring blooms

Our family

Our family

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Decades-old rhododendrons in full bloom

Decades-old rhododendrons in full bloom

Orange rhododendrons

Orange rhododendrons

Pink rhododendrons

Pink rhododendrons

Red rhododendrons

Red rhododendrons

Yellow rhododendrons

Yellow rhododendrons

Peach-colored rhododendrons

Peach-colored rhododendrons

White rhododendrons

White rhododendrons

Red leaves against the blue sky

Red leaves against the blue sky

Fountain in the middle of the lake

Fountain in the middle of the lake

Dragonfly on rhododendron

Dragonfly on rhododendron

Soestdijk Palace

Soestdijk Palace

Palace grounds

Palace grounds

Fountain in the middle of the lake

Fountain in the middle of the lake

The best friends

The best friends

Against the sun...

Against the sun…

Lotus leaves on the lake...

Lotus leaves on the lake…

Reflections...

Reflections…

The Orangerie...

The Orangerie…

Clouds...

Clouds…

Best friends

Best friends

Light pink rhododendrons

Light pink rhododendrons

Red and green

Red and green

Huge trees and decades-old rhododendrons in the park

Huge trees and decades-old rhododendrons in the park

Reflections...

Reflections…

Pink rhododendrons and the palace in the background

Pink rhododendrons and the palace in the background

Rhododendrons

Rhododendrons

Hubby

Hubby

Me

Me

Our family

Our family

Bird in the air

Bird in the air

Orange rhododendrons

Orange rhododendrons

Reflections...

Reflections…

My little girl

My little girl

One lovely spring day at the flower fields

Our family at the tulip fields in the Noordoost Polder

Our family at the tulip fields in the Noordoost Polder

One thing that spring affords me generously is a cost-free trip to seemingly endless floral wonderland. In the Noordoost Polder, there’s over hundred kilometers of flower fields to drive through and the whole journey doesn’t cost a thing except for the car’s petrol needs.

On Ascension Day (a Dutch public holiday) almost three weeks ago, we made this annual foray into the flower fields with my friend Elsa as well as my parents-in-law joining us. The trip was very Dutch as we brought our picnic basket and had our picnic lunch just beside the flower fields. Who needed a fancy restaurant lunch when we could have ours in the open with the seemingly endless fields of tulips right before our eyes.

We had a great time going from one field to the next and finally capping our floral wonderland tour at the exhibit of hundreds of types of tulips where I went crazy for macro shots despite the very windy condition.

Fields of pink tulips

Fields of pink tulips

Francesca with oma

Francesca with oma

Field of white, yellow and red tulips

Field of white, yellow and red tulips

Tulip fields

Tulip fields

Me and my friend Elsa ... Francesca was not keen to pose with us

Me and my friend Elsa … Francesca was not keen to pose with us

Tulip fields

Tulip fields

Little girl among the tulips

Little girl among the tulips

Little girl at the tulip fields

Little girl at the tulip fields

Yellow tulips

Yellow tulips

White tulips

White tulips

The Mr. and me

The Mr. and me

Tulips

Tulips

Yellow tulips

Yellow tulips

Light pink tulips

Light pink tulips

My little girl among purple tulips

My little girl among purple tulips

My very sweet mom-in-law

My very sweet mom-in-law

Tulips

Tulips

A strange mutation of red and yellow

A strange mutation of red and yellow

Pink tulips

Pink tulips

Little girl in the tulip field

Little girl in the tulip field

Red and yellow petaled tulips

Red and yellow petaled tulips

Yellow tulips

Yellow tulips

Yellow and red petaled tulips

Yellow and red petaled tulips

Peach colored tulips

Peach colored tulips

Multi-colored tulips

Multi-colored tulips

Parrot tulips

Parrot tulips

Parrot tulips

Parrot tulips

White and red petaled tulips

White and red petaled tulips

Orange tulips

Orange tulips

Pink tulips

Pink tulips

Pink tulips

Pink tulips

Tulip fields behind the trees

Tulip fields behind the trees

Pink and green petaled tulips

Pink and green petaled tulips

The exhibit of hundreds of types of tulips

The exhibit of hundreds of types of tulips

A tulip up close

A tulip up close

Multi-petaled orange tulips

Multi-petaled orange tulips

Pink tulips

Pink tulips

Pink tulips against the blue sky

Pink tulips against the blue sky

Red tulips

Red tulips

Red tulips with white edges

Red tulips with white edges

Yellow tulips

Yellow tulips

Tulips

Tulips

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Yellow tulips

Yellow tulips

Red and pink tulips

Red and pink tulips

Images from Keukenhof — part 2

More images from Keukenhof. If you are unable to make it to Holland in spring, let me bring Holland to you with these pictures…

My flower paradise every spring time - Keukenhof

My flower paradise every spring time – Keukenhof

Tulips island on a sea of white blooms

Tulips island on a sea of white blooms

Light yellow tulips

Light yellow tulips

Tulips and other blooms are planted in amazing patterns

Tulips and other blooms are planted in amazing patterns

Red and whites

Red and whites

Flower mosaic

Flower mosaic

Amazing harmony of blooms and colors

Amazing harmony of blooms and colors

Dainty pink multi-petaled tulip

Dainty pink multi-petaled tulip

Beauty all around which I cannot ignore...

Beauty all around which I cannot ignore…

White tulip

White tulip

Floral quilt

Floral quilt

White tulips among muscaris

White tulips among muscaris

The amazing harmony of colors and how the gardeners can make them bloom in perfect timing always amazes me.

The amazing harmony of colors and how the gardeners can make them bloom in perfect timing always amazes me.

There's no ugly corner in Keukenhof.  No wonder that I cannot stop my fingers clicking.  ;-)

There’s no ugly corner in Keukenhof. No wonder that I cannot stop my fingers clicking. 😉

Fountains lines by multi-colored tulips

Fountains lines by multi-colored tulips

Daffodils

Daffodils

Red tulips

Red tulips

Pink tulip among the muscaris

Pink tulip among the muscaris

Busy bee

Busy bee

White daffodils

White daffodils

Multi-petaled tulips

Multi-petaled tulips

Multi-petaled tulips

Multi-petaled tulips

White and dark red petaled tulip

White and dark red petaled tulip

Red tulips

Red tulips

Red tulips

Red tulips

Other spring blooms

Other spring blooms

Images from Keukenhof — part 1

Our family in Keukenhof

Our family in Keukenhof

After a bit of absence from this space, I am back with some colorful spring pictures from our trip to Keukenhof last Sunday. Weather was fantastic with lots of sunshine, blue skies and pleasantly warm temperature. Spring has finally arrived after the long wait!

We were there at 11 in the morning but the park was already bursting with visitors from all over the world. Funny enough, it was like being at a UN summit in a park setting.

Perfect time to be at Keukenhof as most of the blooms are already out and at their prettiest. My fingers kept on clicking so this post and the several to follow will be from this one lovely spring outing.

Rows and rows of spring blooms

Rows and rows of spring blooms

Reds and yellows

Reds and yellows

Whites and oranges

Whites and oranges

Reds and peaches

Reds and peaches

Heady hyacinths

Heady hyacinths

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Little girl among the daffodils

Little girl among the daffodils

Daffodils

Daffodils

Daffodils

Daffodils

The Mr. and me

The Mr. and me

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Flowery path

Flowery path

My little girl

My little girl

My little girl

My little girl

Our family

Our family

Dancing diva

Dancing diva

Checking out the pond

Checking out the pond

Magnolias

Magnolias

Hiding behind the tree

Hiding behind the tree

My little girl

My little girl

Happy little girl

Happy little girl

Hyacinths

Hyacinths

Multi-petaled pink tulip

Multi-petaled pink tulip

Pink hyacinths

Pink hyacinths

Tulips

Tulips

Peach tulips

Peach tulips

Red Tulip

Red Tulip

Orange tulips

Orange tulips

Tree tops from the ground

Tree tops from the ground

White blooms

White blooms

White tulip

White tulip

Fountain

Fountain

Chilly Easter egg hunt

The Easter egg hunters

The Easter egg hunters

The chill was unmistakable and the forecast was true to the dot that the temperature will not rise beyond 3 degrees Celsius but to the kids, that was no excuse to enjoy this year’s Easter egg hunt.

The whole adventure started with the egg painting that I organized at home last Saturday and punctually at 3pm, I have them at the door ringing the bell. It was fun to have all six of them — my Francesca, brothers Evan and Ilyaz, brothers Luuk and Job plus their soon to be three-year old sister Vera. Together at the table, they all took to the work at hand, painting the 40 hard boiled white eggs and showing off their creativity and artistry.

The Easter egg hunt was agreed to be at the same place as the previous year…at Soesterduinen. We love this place which is just a few kilometers away but is simply perfect for very energetic kids to run around as it is a wide expanse of sand dunes with sparse islands of pine trees that are perfect for climbing and also for hiding the Easter eggs.

We stayed in the usual place, a perfectly shaded area of several pine trees with branches that spread far and wide. The grown ups enjoyed the usual catch up conversations over everything — family, career, holidays, etc. while the little ones were crazily looking out for the eggs hidden all over.

It was a lot of fun save for the chilly wind that made the 3 degrees Celsius felt even far colder.

The egg painters

The egg painters

The little gang of egg painters

The little gang of egg painters

Soon to be three -- now officially joining in the fun.

Soon to be three — now officially joining in the fun.

Francesca at work

Francesca at work

My husband officially declaring the start of the egg hunt

My husband officially declaring the start of the egg hunt

The kids in frantic search for the Easter eggs

The kids in frantic search for the Easter eggs

Eggs!

Eggs!

Eggs were hidden all over and the enthusiastic kids' energy were boundless

Eggs were hidden all over and the enthusiastic kids’ energy were boundless

Egg hunters

Egg hunters

Some eggs were buried in the sand

Some eggs were buried in the sand

Francesca in search for eggs

Francesca in search for eggs

Kids darting off to the next island of trees to search for more eggs

Kids darting off to the next island of trees to search for more eggs

Easter bunny

Easter bunny

Delight at every egg find

Delight at every egg find

Soesterduinen -- such a perfect location for egg hunt and picnic

Soesterduinen — such a perfect location for egg hunt and picnic

Sands and trees -- perfect spot for kids to play

Sands and trees — perfect spot for kids to play

Tree climbing

Tree climbing

Tree climbing

Tree climbing

Francesca being shown how to play frisbee

Francesca being shown how to play frisbee

Picnic under the shade of pine trees

Picnic under the shade of pine trees

Grown ups enjoy some catch-up

Grown ups enjoy some catch-up

Pix with the neighbors

Pix with the neighbors

Pix with the neighbors

Pix with the neighbors

One happy family

One happy family

A piece of wood can be a fantastic toy for kids

A piece of wood can be a fantastic toy for kids

Kids having so much fun with this piece of wood

Kids having so much fun with this piece of wood

Francesca with her friends

Francesca with her friends

Our family

Our family

Another happy couple -- their two boys were so pre-occupied with the egg hunt to join for this shoot

Another happy couple — their two boys were so pre-occupied with the egg hunt to join for this shoot

At some point, the kids started to have their little arguments

At some point, the kids started to have their little arguments

The chilly temp at some point started to wear down the kids

The chilly temp at some point started to wear down the kids

Heading home -- tired Francesca on her father's back

Heading home — tired Francesca on her father’s back

What happened to spring?

Snow-covered "forget me not" blooms

Snow-covered “forget me not” blooms

Spring is always a much awaited and celebrated season in Holland. In this very flat country, the Dutch ingenuity of creating flower wonderlands in spring has always attracted millions of visitors from all over the world.

Dutch flower fields - typical spring scenery

Dutch flower fields – typical spring scenery

Easter egg hunt from 2 years ago -- weather was warm then, almost like summer so the kids had so much fun with the egg hunt

Easter egg hunt from 2 years ago — weather was warm then, almost like summer so the kids had so much fun with the egg hunt

Egg hunt from 2 years ago -- we're longing for that weather this time.  Forecast for Sunday is not so encouraging at just around 5 degrees Celsius at the warmest

Egg hunt from 2 years ago — we’re longing for that weather this time. Forecast for Sunday is not so encouraging at just around 5 degrees Celsius at the warmest

As soon as March starts, I’m already in extreme anticipation of the new season with plans to hit the flower fields and visit to Keukenhof topping the agenda. This year, however, that usual enthusiasm is tempered by the current reality of freezing temperature which if forecasts are to be relied upon, is very discouraging as it is expected to persist till most of the month of April.

What happened to spring? Why the big snub this year? Will it still ever come or are we just going to progress to summer and skip spring all together? I hope not….

We had an infinitesimal glimpse of spring three weeks ago for two days with the mercury tipping at 15 degrees Celsius at the warmest and enough to awaken the croci from their winter slumber. My little girl and I went out as she wanted to pick a few blooms and that was all that spring has been so far from our end.

Forget-me-nots with snow dusting

Forget-me-nots with snow dusting

Snow bells

Snow bells

Snow-covered blooms

Snow-covered blooms

Forget-me-not

Forget-me-not

Forget-me-nots

Forget-me-nots

Snow-dusted forget-me-not

Snow-dusted forget-me-not

Grape hyacinth

Grape hyacinth

Snow dusting on old flower remnants

Snow dusting on old flower remnants

Snow-covered leaves

Snow-covered leaves

Snow dusted plants

Snow dusted plants

Snow-covered bloom

Snow-covered bloom

My little girl and her little bouquet of croci

My little girl and her little bouquet of croci

Picking some crocus from a nearby green spot

Picking some crocus from a nearby green spot

Croci

Croci

Crocus

Crocus

Francesca

Francesca

Picnic and fishing at the Dordogne River

Picnic under the shade of trees by the river bank makes for perfect summer memories

Picnic under the shade of trees by the river bank makes for perfect summer memories

Fishing for baby trout in the Dordogne River

Fishing for baby trout in the Dordogne River

It was yet again another very warm summer day and my parents-in-law’s last day in the Dordogne. After checking out from Le Chambellan which has been their home away from home in the last few days, we all headed to the nearby Dordogne River for one last visit to this idyllic place from where we all had a great time — having picnic and fishing before driving to Bergerac for their flight back to Holland.

With her pink net and just slathered with a thick layer of sunblock, Francesca together with her father spent a great deal of time netting baby and juvenile trouts in the shallow waters of Dordogne while me, Opa and Oma watched with delight in the shades by the river bank. Lunch was a picnic of French goodies which can never be any nicer than in such a setting.

Picnic of French bread accompanied by creamy butter, cheese and terrine

Picnic of French bread accompanied by creamy butter, cheese and terrine

Opa and Oma

Opa and Oma

Father and daughter fishing for baby trouts

Father and daughter fishing for baby trouts

Francesca with her catch of trout that went into the bottle filled with water (she later released them back in the river)

Francesca with her catch of trout that went into the bottle filled with water (she later released them back in the river)

This boy joined her in the fishing expedition

This boy joined her in the fishing expedition

The fish catchers

The fish catchers

Fishing in action -- the trouts were quite fast

Fishing in action — the trouts were quite fast

Two excited fish catchers

Two excited fish catchers

Birds in the sky

Birds in the sky

Other holiday makers

Other holiday makers

Aiming for the baby trouts

Aiming for the baby trouts

The fish catchers

The fish catchers

Chateau de Hautefort and its gardens

Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

The day before my parents-in-law were due to fly back to Holland, we went to visit yet another castle — the Chateau de Hautefort.

This castle was about an hour’s drive from our base so we brought our picnic basket. One thing that we loved in this holiday was having a picnic lunch which was just so ideal when visiting places like this castle so we avoid long queues and waiting in the restaurant. Our French picnic basket consisted of French bread, pate, cheese and a very succulent melon which we ate under the walnut trees at the foot of the castle’s ground.

The castle was an amazing revelation although it has seen some untoward development in its history like fire but has since then, been rebuilt and restored to its former glory. Not all parts of the castle was open to the public but there was enough to see. The gardens — left me at a loss to describe beauty in its purest sense.

This chateau has also graced the silver screen when it was used as one of the locations for the movie Ever After directed by Andy Tenant and starred by Drew Barrymore.

We enjoyed our picnic lunch at the foothills of this chateau -- under the shade of walnut trees.

We enjoyed our picnic lunch at the foothills of this chateau — under the shade of walnut trees.

Impressive gardens of the chateau -- geometric shapes, topiaries...

Impressive gardens of the chateau — geometric shapes, topiaries…

Parterre garden of Chateau de Hautefort

Parterre garden of Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

Our family

Our family

Francesca's idea of family picture

Francesca’s idea of family picture

Another angle of the chateau

Another angle of the chateau

Topiaries

Topiaries

Topiaries

Topiaries

Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

One facet of the garden and the village of Hautefort below

One facet of the garden and the village of Hautefort below

At the chateau's entrance

At the chateau’s entrance

Our family

Our family

Another angle of the garden

Another angle of the garden

The garden

The garden

Mam Sil smelling the flowers

Mam Sil smelling the flowers

Beautiful dahlias were in bloom during our visit

Beautiful dahlias were in bloom during our visit

Opa and Francesca

Opa and Francesca

Oma and Francesca

Oma and Francesca

The chateau

The chateau

Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

One of the bedrooms open for public viewing

One of the bedrooms open for public viewing

Another accessible room at the chateau

Another accessible room at the chateau

A peek into the bygone era

A peek into the bygone era

A tunnel inside the chateau

A tunnel inside the chateau

The chateau's door

The chateau’s door

Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

Opa and Francesca at the chateau's gift shop

Opa and Francesca at the chateau’s gift shop

Opa's present from the chateau's shop

Opa’s present from the chateau’s shop

Opa and oma

Opa and oma

Roses

Roses

Pink bloom

Pink bloom

Butterfly

Butterfly

Red roses

Red roses

Yellow blooms

Yellow blooms

Pink blooms

Pink blooms

Blue flowers

Blue flowers

French summer basket

French summer basket

Wishing well???

Wishing well???

My little girl

My little girl

Market day in Sarlat-la-Canéda

Lunch in Sarlat-la-Caneda

Lunch in Sarlat-la-Caneda

On this particular warm summer day, we were celebrating a special day, my father-in-law’s birthday. In earlier years when they still live up north in Holland in the Friesian farm house which has a very beautiful garden that my mom-in-law lovingly tended, this birthday celebration was usually on home ground with a barbeque party. For the first time, we celebrated this happy occasion abroad and on a completely different atmosphere.

Not wanting to waste opportunity to see as much during their few days in Dordogne, we decided to visit Sarlat-la-Caneda which on a Saturday in summer, also has its open market. Sarlat is a very alluring town, still well-preserved and very much representative of 14th century France. Being there is like taking a step back in time given its many impeccably restored stone buildings from that bygone era. No wonder then why it is the third most popular location for movies in France after Paris and Cannes.

Comparing the open market in Sarlat to that of Le Bugue which we visited earlier, Sarlat has more to offer and there was more to see too. I enjoyed checking out the stuffs on offer from stall to stall but resisted the urge to do my usual panic buying especially of those wonderful dried sausages, terrine, macaroons, cheeses, etc.

As with any birthday celebration, cake and coffee are a must so the first item on our itinerary was to find a nice pattisserie. We found one along the busy main street and enjoyed our cake and cappuccino. Then it was off to see more of the city and for my mom-in-law to also buy her French basket.

Lunch was a simple fare. We found a quaint little restaurant in the city centre where it was amazingly cool on this very warm day. They opted for omelets and salad while I found the prawn flambee in brandy more appealing especially with the little rice on the side.

Dordogne as we experienced it was spectacular. On the trip back, we were beckoned by the picturesque sunflower fields to make a stop for a few pictures.

Sarlat's city centre

Sarlat’s city centre

Sarlat's city centre

Sarlat’s city centre

Sarlat's city centre

Sarlat’s city centre

Cake and coffee celebration of Dad's birthday

Cake and coffee celebration of Dad’s birthday

My little girl wanted this toy so much

My little girl wanted this toy so much

Walnut cake

Walnut cake

Raspberry cake

Raspberry cake

Lemon cake

Lemon cake

Dordogne's cakes and pastries

Dordogne’s cakes and pastries

Dordogne's cakes and pastries

Dordogne’s cakes and pastries

Admiring the macaroons

Admiring the macaroons

Cakes and pastries

Cakes and pastries

A stall selling dried sausages

A stall selling dried sausages

Dried herbs and spices

Dried herbs and spices

Spices

Spices

Dried spices

Dried spices

Bags

Bags

And more bags

And more bags

Walnuts

Walnuts

And nutcracker

And nutcracker

Cheeses

Cheeses

Bamboo-based utensils

Bamboo-based utensils

Old books

Old books

Dried fruits

Dried fruits

Honey

Honey

A local artist

A local artist

Sarlat Cathedral

Sarlat Cathedral

Ivy-covered old house

Ivy-covered old house

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

Pink roses

Pink roses

Outdoor restaurants

Outdoor restaurants

My little girl

My little girl

Ivy-covered building

Ivy-covered building

Narrow streets

Narrow streets

Outdoor restaurant

Outdoor restaurant

Former church turned market place

Former church turned market place

Narrow street

Narrow street

Sarlat

Sarlat

Facade of an old building

Facade of an old building

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

My little girl

My little girl

A taste of Holland in Sarlat

A taste of Holland in Sarlat

Summer outfit

Summer outfit

My little girl

My little girl

French bread

French bread

French omelet

French omelet